Final Designs Revealed for Long-Envisioned Northside Transit Center

One of Cincinnati’s most popular neighborhoods will soon get its very own transit hub.

With more than 13,000 people boarding or exiting buses every day, Northside has long been one of the region’s busiest transit hubs. This is partially due to the neighborhood’s high population and business density, but also because of the numerous transfers from the eight bus routes there (15x, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23x, 27, 51).

This high transit ridership also creates an odd conversion of buses from all over the city. In an effort to clean up the operation of these bus routes, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority has long been trying to streamline and enhance operations at Knowlton’s Corner.

After years of work, that vision is finally becoming reality with the $320,000 Northside Transit Center.

“Northside has been working to improve bus traffic through the neighborhood for most of two decades, and the pieces are finally falling into place,” said Ollie Kroner, President of the Northside Community Council.

“Metro presented preliminary plans to the community in July. I would say we are a hard group to impress, but their drawings really exceeded expectations,” Kroner continued. “This should be good for commuters, and also good for our business district.”

Its location is further complimented by the nearly location of a large Cincy Red Bike Station at Hoffner Park.

Cincinnati-based MSA Architects has completed its designs for the new transit hub in the heart of the Northside business district immediately south of the recently completed $15 million Gantry Apartments development. The new facility will boast dedicated bus lanes, boarding platforms, passenger shelters, bike racks and lockers, and real-time arrival technology.

The plan also calls for a significant upgrade and expansion of an adjacent parking lot, which SORTA officials envision as also serving as a miniature park-and-ride facility with 18 allocated spaces.

Project officials say that the Northside Transit Center project is expected to be completed by late 2017.

Larger Implications
Northside has become the center point for the city as hit-and-runs with people walking and biking have increased. In September, this even led to the community organizing public demonstrations urging City Hall to reduce the speed limit through the business district, while also committing to other safety improvements city-wide.

The implementation of the Northside Transit Center will significantly help consolidate bus traffic through the popular business district, while also create a safe and hospitable place for people to wait for their transit connections.

“We have the second busiest transit hub in the city after Government Square, in a neighborhood that was built before we had cars,” Kroner told UrbanCincy. “The transit hub should make riding the bus easier, more comfortable, and safer in Northside.”

While the City of Cincinnati has not committed to a Vision Zero campaign, or an official Complete Streets policy, residents continue to call for such measures.

Meanwhile, the move also comes as Metro attempts to reinvent its region-wide bus system in order to better connect people with jobs. Historically, many bus systems relied on what is called a spoke-and-hub system that ran all routes to a central downtown transit center. This train of thought has changed as cities have become increasingly more mixed-use and diverse.

Metro officials plan to unveil a new regional transit plan in early 2017, and may possibly put a transit tax increase before votes next November to help implement the recommendations laid out in that plan.

Metro To Break Ground on $1.2 Million Oakley Transit Center Next Summer

At its 2015 State of Metro meeting on Friday, Dwight Ferrell announced that the region’s largest transit agency will be build a new transit center in Oakley, along with a variety of other transit improvements in the immediate area.

The $1.2 million project will get started next summer and be built along the Isben Avenue, just east of Marburg Avenue. The location is in the middle of an area that has been completely transformed over the past two decades, including such projects as Center of Cincinnati and Oakley Station.

The project is part of a larger effort by Metro to overhaul its regional bus system from a traditional hub-and-spoke model, which focused on moving people in and out of the center city, to one that has more flexibility and connects more people, more directly, with job centers throughout the region.

“We are always looking ahead and planning for the future needs of this community,” SORTA Board Chair Jason Dunn said in a prepared statement. “Our goal is to continue to operate efficiently while constantly working to improve service.”

This particular project directly addresses the new vision for Metro by significantly enhancing transit service to an estimated 7,100 jobs in the nearby area, major shopping destinations and the Crossroads megachurch. It also builds on other recent transit hub projects like the Glenway Crossing Transit Center and Uptown Transit District, and the planned Northside Transit Center and Walnut Hills Transit District.

Metro officials say that the Oakley Transit Center will consist of four boarding bays, park-and-ride spaces for commuters, enhanced transit shelters and wayfinding, real-time arrival screens, and a ticketing kiosk like those at Government Square and the Uptown Transit District.

As of now, the improvements made as part of the Oakley Transit Center will immediately improve service for routes 4, 11, 12X, 41 and 51.

While Metro has stated that they are currently short on capital funding for upgrading their fleet, the funds for this project were provided by the Federal Surface Transportation Program, along with some local funds.

As Construction Nears Completion, Apartment Leasing to Begin at The Gantry

Construction work has progressed quickly on the $13 million Gantry development since ground was broken in June 2014; and developers expect to start leasing apartments in the near future.

Located in the heart of Northside, the project has transformed what had long sat as an empty and vacated rail yard. It is also the site of what had long stood as a controversial proposal to develop a suburban-style Walgreen’s on the site, which was adamantly fought by Northside residents in the early aughts.

After the success in fighting off what was seen as a damaging Walgreen’s proposal, and the success of the American Can Lofts just behind this site, which opened in 2011, the location has only become that much more desirable.

“Their [Bloomfield & Schon] work for American Can, getting that project through – I know it was a grueling process – really paved the way for Gantry to happen, and enables us to thrive in this great neighborhood,” explained Jake Dietrich at Milhaus, at the groundbreaking last year.

“Some might say that we’re taking a chance on Northside, but in a way Northside kind of took a chance on us, because this kind of project doesn’t happen more times than once. So the fact that Northside was willing to let an out-of-town developer come in and work with them so closely just goes to show just how much this neighborhood cares and how much potential this neighborhood has.

Located at the northeast corner of Blue Rock and Hamilton Avenue, the Gantry was designed by CR architecture + design and is being developed by Milhaus. It includes three new buildings with 131 apartments and approximately 8,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

Wire & Twine was one of the first businesses to sign on for space at Gantry, and will open this fall.

While the new retail will fill in an important gap for the business district, it is the influx of new housing that has many in the historic neighborhood excited.

According to Gregory Martin, Vice President of Development at Milhaus, most of the framing is now finished inside the buildings, and that leasing on the studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartments will begin in July, with the first residents moving in this September.

Those interested in getting on the waiting list now can do so by signing up on the Gantry’s website.

The project has been designed to achieve LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. In addition to its green building features, the development will also take advantage of being located in the walkable Northside business district, and being directly across the street from one of Cincy Red Bike’s newest stations at Jacob Hoffner Park, as well as Metro’s new Northside Transit Center.

“Northside is a community, that if you haven’t noticed, is a community that is very, very much on the upswing,” said Vice Mayor David Mann (D).

Transit Ridership Inches Forward in Ohio’s Largest Metropolitan Centers

While transit ridership nationwide inched upward and reached its highest level in more than a half century, it remained flat in Ohio’s two largest metropolitan regions.

According to new data released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), transit ridership in both Cincinnati and Cleveland remained essentially unchanged from 2013 to 2014. With a 3% ridership gain over the previous year, Columbus bucked the trend and posted the fifth highest bus ridership gain nationally.

“In 2014, people took a record 10.8 billion trips on public transportation — the highest annual ridership number in 58 years,” said Phillip Washington, APTA Chair and CEO & General Manager of the Regional Transportation District in Denver. “Some public transit systems experienced all-time record high ridership last year.”

In a nod to Columbus, Washington said that the increases were not just relegated to large cites, but were found in smaller and medium size communities as well. But according to Streetsblog USA, an UrbanCincy content partner, the national increases can be largely attributed to the large gains in New York City, which accounts for roughly 25% of American transit ridership.

Growth in transit ridership is expected to continue in the years ahead as dozens of cities throughout the United States build out regional rail networks and implement new bus services. In Cincinnati, that includes new services operating out of the recently opened Uptown Transit District and the forthcoming Northside Transit Center and Walnut Hills Transit District.

The opening of the first leg of the Cincinnati Streetcar is also expected to boost ridership in 2016. Until then, Cleveland will remain as the only city in Ohio to have both bus and rail offerings. Not surprisingly, Cleveland’s transit usage dwarfs that of both Cincinnati and Columbus.

While year-over-year ridership only increased nationally by 1%, that gain is seen as encouraging since it occurred at the same time as prices for gasoline plummeted. Transportation officials see continued transit ridership growth, in addition to VMT growth for the first time in nearly a decade, as a clear indication of a much stronger economy where more people are employed.

“Since nearly 60 % of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, public transportation ridership increases are seen in areas where the local economy is growing,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.

In spite of Cincinnati’s growing economy, transit ridership actually posted a slight loss. That loss, however, is in line with national bus ridership trends. While Cincinnati saw an annual decrease of 1.8%, bus ridership across the country also experienced a 1.1% decline. All modes of rail transit, meanwhile, posted gains, which now accounts for 46% of all trips made by transit.

Light rail systems posted the biggest annual gain of 3.6%, while heavy rail and commuter rail added riders by 3.3% and 2.9%, respectively.

“People are changing their travel behavior and want more travel options,” Melaniphy concluded. “In the past people had a binary choice. You either took public transit, most likely a bus, or you drove a car. Now there are multiple options with subways, light rail, streetcars, commuter trains, buses, ferries, cars and shared use vehicles.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: APTA’s annual report does not include ridership data for the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK), which provides approximately 3.8 million trips annually. For the purposes of this analysis, UrbanCincy has used a constant 3.8 million annual trips from TANK in the Cincinnati totals presented in the above chart.

New Transit Hubs on the Way for Northside, Walnut Hills

Walnut Hills and Northside have long been two of the region’s busiest transit hubs, and now it appears that they will finally get their due as part of an ongoing effort by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) to broaden its services beyond its traditional hub-and-spoke model.

To-date those efforts have included the construction of the Glenway Crossing Transit Center, Uptown Transit District and Montgomery Road Metro*Plus Route – all of which have been found to be helping boost ridership.

Two action items before today’s meeting of SORTA’s Planning & Operations Committee call for the award of funds to two companies to design transit hubs in both neighborhoods.

The first item is a $126,000 award to Woolpert. This contract would fund the final design and construction contract services for what is being called the Walnut Hills Transit District, which would include new passenger shelters, lighting, route information, sidewalk improvements and other amenities at seven bus stops throughout the Peeble’s Corner District.

While not yet approved, the investment was hinted at when Metro announced that monthly passes and regional stored-value cards would be available for purchase at the Walnut Hills Kroger.

The second item on the agenda would provide $319,000 to Michael Schuster Associates Architects (MSA), who also designed Government Square and the Uptown Transit District, to provide the preliminary and final design and construction contract administration services for an off-street transit center in the heart of Northside’s business district at the intersection of Spring Grove, Hamilton and Blue Rock.

According to official documents, the new transit center will include new passenger shelters, pedestrian-scale lighting, next bus information, sidewalk and waiting area improvements, and other amenities. Further adding to the firm’s strength, MSA had completed a conceptual layout for the Northside Transit Center in 2012.

According to SORTA officials, the funds for both of these allocations will come from the agency’s annual capital budget funding.

For Northside it comes at a particularly good time, as the first Cincy Red Bike station outside of Uptown or Downtown is currently being installed.